NEW DELHI, India, 18 July 2013 - UNICEF expresses deep sorrow at the loss of lives of children in Bihar after consuming their mid day meals. These deaths could had been prevented with strict adherence to protocols for preparing the mid day meal.
UNICEF is in touch with the concerned authorities to understand what happened and find ways to prevent such incidents from taking place in future.
While acknowledging that India's Mid Day Meal Scheme is the largest school feeding programme in the world, and that the Government is working to strengthen and improve its management, UNICEF considers that increased actions must be urgently taken.
The protocols for adequate and safe preparation of the mid day meal are in place. They include keeping the cooking place and utensils clean and free from insects and flies, adequate and safe storage space; proper washing of vegetables and other ingredients before cooking; proper personal hygiene of the cook and helper, tasting of food before serving; and hand washing with soap by children before eating.
The implementation of these protocols is, however, a challenge. Improved management and quality control of the Mid Day Meal Scheme implementation by the school authorities and communities is critical. The active engagement of School Management Committees and parents is crucial for quality assurance and monitoring of the programme.
UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Human Resource Development, responsible for the implementation of the Scheme, to improve water, sanitation and hand washing with soap facilities in schools, and specifically to advocate that all children, mid day meal supervisors, cooks and teachers wash their hands with soap before food preparation and eating. This contributes significantly to improve children's health and nutritional status.